Sometimes I think about Jesus’ day to day life in the first century. I’m aware the Gospels do not record everything he ever did; there were mundane moments when he was probably overwhelmed by the heat of the desert sun or when he waved away flies that hovered over his meal, but those moments are not recorded by the Gospel writers. Aside from a brief mention of being tired when he sits down by a well before encountering a Samaritan woman or the few times he needs to get away to pray alone, there is not much that we can know about the ordinary moments of his days or about his own soul-care.
What the Gospels do record, though, is fascinating. Not only do we get accounts of conversations, meals, parables, and wonders, but we see Jesus’ pace of life. One writer describes this pace as leisurely.
Leisurely. Not rushed or sluggish but leisurely. Unhurried.
There is always a purpose he has in mind, either a goal or a place to get to, but even so, he is never in a rush. There is always time to stop and find out who it was that just touched his clothes or to welcome little children into his arms. In fact, this unhurried pace is the reason he misses arriving at his friend Lazarus’ bedside before he dies (though this incident turns out not to be a problem for the miracle-working son of God).
In contrast, I live my life at breakneck speed. Always going, doing or distracted by a screen, so Jesus’ example prompted me to slow down my own pace of life. Though I do not spend my days performing miracles or delivering sermons from boats, I feel rushed and overwhelmed more often that I would like to admit. Some days my life feels like I am swimming in the Olympics, and time is my enemy; every second that passes is putting me further and further behind. In particular, I found that social media contributed to my frazzled, un-leisurely state.
Now don’t misunderstand me; I do not think social media is evil and responsible for the decline of public discourse and our society. I have read articles that malign social media, blaming it for everything from superficial relationships to our short attention spans, but, in truth, I believe that social media is a tool. People are unhealthy not tools. And tools in the hands of unhealthy people can become harmful and even destructive.
Most of the time I am grateful for the way social media allows me to connect with old or faraway friends and even make new ones. But when I am not in a good place spiritually and emotionally, it is unhealthy for me to spend time there. I cannot deny that I also feel addicted to checking Twitter constantly and getting information instantly; that I write Facebook messages while on a phone call instead of being fully present to my conversation; that I sometimes envy the lives I see on Instagram while scrolling quickly through the feed.
So I decided to take a break from all social media for the month of July. The results of my fast were SO good for my weary soul. I arrived at the conclusion that soul-care sometimes requires subtraction of things, but it also requires healthy additions to replace them:
- I did not hear about political events right away, but it turned out not to be a big deal. I listen to NPR every morning, so I heard about them the next day, if not from conversations with friends.
- I stood in line at the grocery store and did not check any social media account to find out what my friends in LA were up to. I noticed, instead, how tired the cashier seemed and asked her if it had been a long day.
- I listened to sermons and attended workshops without speedily live-Tweeting them. I took notes in my slow cursive on paper and kept my phone in my purse.
- I had lunches and dinners alone or with friends and did not take pictures of them. They were delicious anyway, and I was not tempted to be in two places at once: in my social media feeds and with my friends in the flesh.
- I texted faraway friends and set-up times to chat on the phone and catch up across the miles.
In short, nothing magical happened during my social media break. I was just more present to myself and others, and I slowed down. I approached Jesus’ leisurely pace of life just a little bit and practiced better soul care.
And the difference was not the break itself but what filled the vacuum left by social media. I spent more time reading; more time in contemplative spiritual practices; and more time just sitting with my own ennui or the awkwardness of being in a public space with nothing to do.
Now that I am back on social media, I made some resolutions in order to engage in a healthier way:
- I did not reinstall the apps on my phone and decided that I will check my feed once a day when I am at home.
- I am taking a weekly Sabbath from all social media in an effort to continue to teach my soul that it is not an absolute need in life, but something that enriches it.
- I am choosing my words on social media more carefully, in an effort to build up rather than default to my natural tendency to criticize and deconstruct only.
I am hopeful that these practices will help me to continue striving toward that ever elusive leisurely pace of Jesus.
What helps you to practice good soul-care?